Monday, 25 February 2008

A few words more about Hu Gadarn . . .

Double click to enlarge the photographs:

In search of quite another line of research entirely, I came across the following extract from George Borrow's "Wild Wales", which was written after his travels through Wales in 1854. Born in Norfolk in 1803, he trained as a lawyer, but had a flair for languages, Welsh being one of those languages he had mastered and which was essential for his journey into the Welsh mountains, where English was never spoken.

He writes of a secluded valley not far from Tregaron in Ceredigion (or Cardiganshire in English.) This is the next county to the north and slightly west of Carmarthenshire. Llandewi Brefi was the centre of ecclesiastical discord from as early as the 5th Century. In 519, the Synod of Brefi was held here by Saint David (the patron Saint of Wales) and legend has it that the small hillock which Saint David stood upon to address the Synod against Pelagian heresy (and incidentally upon which the much later 12th C church now stands) was miraculously raised up so that he might be heard. "The ground rose under his feet elevating him above the crowd. His voice was as a trumpet and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove came and stood on his shoulder." The site of the church was associated with Christian worship since the 7th century, though only fragments of that church remain and are incorporated into the later building. It is one of the oldest definite Christian sites in Britain. The photograph at the top of the page is one I took last summer, and is one of the pre-Norman burial markers, this one having the outline of a person on it. These ECMs (Early Christian Monuments) date somewhere between the 7th and 10th centuries.

Built into part of the wall is the 'Idnert' stone - which is what I specifically travelled there to see. describes it thus: "This dates back to the early 7th C, well within the lifetime of some of (Saint) David's students, and originally the inscription on it read, "Here lies Idnert, son of Jacobus, who was killed defending the church of the Holy David from despoliation." Of course, it was in Latin and we only know that it originally said that because it was recorded in 1693 by a historian called Edward Llwyd. When the church was repaired in the 1800s, the stone was broken up and reused in the new walls. Only this fragment remains, part of the Latin word "occisus", meaning "was killed" and we have the frustrating knowledge that the rest of the inscription, containing the earliest known reference to David, lies buries somewhere within the walls."

George Borrow: "If this secluded gorge or valley is connected with a remarkable historical event is is also associated with one of the wildest tales of mythology. Here, according to old tradition, died one of the humped oxen of the team of Hu Gadarn. Distracted at having lost its comrade, which perished from the dreadful efforts which it made along with the others in drawing the afanc hen or old crocodile from the lake of lakes, it fled away from its master, and wandered about, till coming to the glen now called that of Llan Ddewi Brefi, it fell down and perished after excessive bellowing, from which noise the place probably derived its name of Brefi, for Bref in Cumbric signifies a mighty bellowing or lowing. Horns of enormous size, said to have belonged to this humped ox or bison, were for many ages preserved in the church."

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